In 1986 I was cast in an original play called “The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be” at the Burbage Theater in L.A. It was an odd little play about the homeless, current society norms mixed with odd illusions of Hans Christian Andersons. I played “The Kid”, a homeless young man on the streets trying to survive eating stale french fries and and hearing stories from grizzled veterans swilling Night Train. It had an excellent pedigree; the cast was great, an extremely passionate director (Deborah Levine) and an interesting script.
Playing the role of the nightmarish illusion, The Little Match Girl, was a young, charming and exceedingly talented, JoAnn Willette. As the two youngest members of the cast, we became friendly and eventually started dating. It was great fun; rehearsing together, going to the show, auditioning for TV guest spots, celebrating the holidays together.
Jo shared with me that her last boyfriend broke her heart. He was an actor, too. He really did a number on her (I was too young and naive to know what a bounce back boyfriend was). She felt that he used her to get a role in the HBO movie “Long Gone”. JoAnn’s brother-in-law at the time was an HBO executive. Clearly, this was difficult for her and I tried my best to be supportive. He sounded like a real jerk.
I get an audition towards the end of the year for a MOW (movie of the week) called Daddy. Great script about teen pregnancy. I have an excellent audition for one of the lead characters friends, Jake “Buff” Buffington. It’s down to me and another actor. He’s African American and I’m told they may want to go that way to add some diversity to the cast. They don’t and I’m hired. I’m ecstatic. It’s a great cast; Danny Aiello, Tess Harper and John Karlin. The director/writer is up and coming, John Herzfeld. I share this joyous news with my girlfriend. She looks at me with a sad, pensive stare as she already knows about the project; the lead character in the movie, playing the high schooler turned father is none other than her ex-boyfriend; Dermot Mulroney. I’m aghast with shock. I’m now going to work with my girlfriends ex with the knowledge that he’s a complete asshole/jerk/user/prick. Sheesh. Talk about a buzz kill.
First day of rehearsals for Daddy I meet the cast at a diner in North Hollywood. There…in the flesh…is the devil; Dermot Mulroney. Immediately I’m thinking, “I have to defend Jo’s honor”. I can’t like this guy. He’s hurt her and I will not enjoy this experience. We all take a break between scenes and Dermot, JJ Cohen and I talk. I let Dermot know that I’m dating Jo and JJ say’s, “Oh, Jo Willette? I dated her too”. WTF? Who knows if this is even true but the thing is…Dermot is a really nice guy. A dude. Someone you could hang with. Non-threatening. Funny. Talented. We all bond knowing that we’ll be spending the next three weeks each other.
That night I spend some time with Jo and she asks, “how was your first day with Dermot”. “Ummm..well..to be honest, good?”. I could see the disappointment on her face. The die is cast. The wheels are in motion. We are uncomfortable with each other and not long after, she does to me that Dermot did to her; broke my heart.
Daddy aired and it was the most highly rated MOW at the time, is often shown in schools as an educational film and the very first on broadcast television to feature an on-air exchange of a prophylactic; between Dermot and me.